This question’s answer seems very, very obvious and without a doubt, for me at least: Why are narratives so moral? The question was posed to me in an e-mail, which served as a call for responses to be presented at IU Bloomington’s conference, a conference that is thematically in line with our “Themester.” Fall 2012’s theme is “Good Behavior, Bad Behavior: Molecules to Morality.” The “molecules to morality” part is the part I don’t like about the theme’s title, primarily because I think the proposal of an ought from an is is silly. There is some limited sense in which I think an ought can come from an is, but that is beyond the scope of this post. Anyway, my answer to the above posed question is —surprise! surprise!— Kantian in flavor. If you are in cognitive science, psychology, or neuroscience, and actually know a thing or two about the philosophical founding of your science, then this will, on the contrary, not surprise you. Continue reading
Category Archives: Literature
I offer for consideration a very interesting dialogue from the opening of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (Pocket Books, 2004, page 5). The protagonist begins:
“You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. They taught you that? Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions.”
“That’s all right,” said the Psychologist.
“Nor having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence.”
“There I object,” said Filby. “Of course a solid body may exist. All real things —”
“So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube exist?”
“Don’t follow,” said Filby.
Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?”
Filby became pensive.
“Clearly,” the Time Traveller proceeded, “any real body must have extension in four directions, it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and —Duration.”
The dialogue points to what is, in my experience, a much overlooked idea: that there is an interesting constraint applied to time by the first three spatial dimensions. When we look around, we don’t see triangles, we see things that look like triangles. This is the sort of thinking that led Plato to the idea of universal forms and the allegory of the Cave. The dialogue points out an interesting question: Supposing that one can obtain, say, a platonic solid, what if it exists only for an instant —that is, no duration at all? I don’t see this question come up often in the more academic forums; maybe it does and I am just missing it. Continue reading
It should be common knowledge that it isn’t wise to accept, without air of caution, someone’s opinion on a matter as absolute fact, if that person is not an expert in the given field. Consider popular physics, for the moment. What field is it that a physicist (or, as will be the case in the blog post, a mathematician) is expert of? That’s one question. Another is: What does the composition of works in popular physics entail? If the answer to the former is not the answer to the latter, then there is something wrong. I believe something is. Continue reading
Comparing the Great Books of the Western World to the Harvard Classics (Part II): Assessing the Fiction Selections
For all that I took the Harvard Classics to the woodshed in the first part of this series, the Great Books of the Western World shall get their fill in this one. Let me preface this post by saying that I will not too strongly impose my opinions upon the two sets of books, in the sense that I will only criticize selections on the basis of what I think is within the realm of acceptability. That is, I will criticize those selections which wouldn’t make my top 100 fiction selections, let alone my top dozen or two. Also, I will include epics in this discussion, and keep them separate from poetry, at least for the purposes of this post. Continue reading
Comparing the Great Books of the Western World to the Harvard Classics (Part I): General Observations and Remarks
(attention: Please note that there are about a dozen works (a few more so in the Harvard Classics than the Great Books of the Western World) within each collection that I have not read, and I will do my best to note which those are. There are a few works, like Summa Theologica, of which I have read a portion through abridged editions or numerous excerpts, but I do feel competent, even in such a partial reading of these few texts, to comment upon their having been selected. Additionally, I have only read half of the books in the Gateway to the Great Books collections, and the same is true of the Harvard Classics’ shelf of fiction. Therefore, I will not comment on either of these.) Continue reading